Bobby's Back

Flay gets down with Mediterranean flavors at Gato

When was the last time you saw an enthusiastic server in a fitted waistcoat pour a dish of olive oil for the table?

It seems like an out-of-date service ritual, but then you take note of the diners at Gato who are totally delighted. The teenager with dyed black hair and blunt bangs, sharing a lamb sausage pizza ($17) with her dad. The chill young couples with their middle-aged parents who get excited when they see Bobby Flay, in the flesh, moving across the dining room to make some obligatory hellos.

After so many years of cooking on TV, Flay is back in the kitchen, turning out all sorts of Mediterranean-influenced dishes for a full house on Lafayette Street. This is not the idiosyncratic, obsession-driven stuff of a young chef. There are none of those experimental dishes that dare you to like them–no edible puzzles.

Flay's priority at Gato seems to be serving food that will make everyone happy. From the steamed halibut in a pool of tomato broth and couscous ($29) to the lamb shank (served off the bone) with chewy beads of fregula and mustard greens ($32), the food is built to please–impeccably seasoned, easy-to-love, tasty stuff.

Fetuccine with prawns

There's crab risotto paved with garlicky breadcrumbs ($18) and a cazuela filled with extremely soft scrambled eggs ($14) and pieces of warm goat cheese. On top: romesco. On the side: tomato-rubbed toasts.

An order of three tapas from the bar (3 for $17) is a good way to taste more things–a mini chorizo crepinette with a big punch of sweetness and soft heat; two lovely bites of a cold mussel and clam salad; beef crudo with pickled fresno chiles. Sure, there's a bit of repetition–char, chile, cheese–but look around the room at the happy faces and the empty plates: Some things never get old.